Enhancing Contact Tracing with Location

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Contact tracing is an increasingly common phrase heard in the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response. It’s a proven health intervention that can effectively limit the spread of contagious disease. As counties move to reopen safely, decision-makers are faced with new challenges that require new ways of responding. One of those new opportunities – community contact tracing – offers a technology-driven update to traditional methods.

Contact Tracing: What Is It?

Contact tracing is a process based on the understanding that a person’s risk of contracting a virus relates directly to their exposure to other people who are already infected. It begins with interviewing those infected – someone who is a confirmed case, to ask about others they have come into contact with over a specified time period. These contacts are interviewed to assess symptoms, collect additional information about their exposure, offer resources for testing and help support the Contact’s quarantine, ensuring safe, sustainable and effective isolation to prevent further transmission.

Traditionally, this has been a manual process. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a standard form and methodology, specifically for the COVID-19 response. Unfortunately, it does not typically include the systematic capture of useful location information. The lack of location information creates a challenge when an outbreak evolves into a pandemic, and transmission advances beyond human-to-human infection to community spread. In this scenario, people infected are not sure how or where they contracted the virus.

To enhance the process of contact tracing, Esri is introducing the concept of Community Contact Tracing.

Community Contact Tracing: A Location-Focused Approach.

The COVID-19 pandemic is certainly in the community spread phase. Around the world, public health authorities are calling for contact tracing to be scaled to an unprecedented level, supporting continued efforts to prevent further spread of the virus. If this effort is to be successful, we’ll all need to think differently.

By expanding the person-to-person approach to include person-to-person-to-place, public health professionals can uncover new insights about community transmission to see where new infections may be occurring, speeding awareness and enabling quick preventative action. In our highly complex, highly mobile and interconnected world, including place is a simple addition with significant returns. This requires the location enablement of contact addresses and community locations during the data collection process.

Benefits of Community Contact Tracing

Using a Geographic Information Systems (GIS), public health analysts add location information to contact tracing and perform location analytics to illuminate the places where the viral spread is happening outside of direct and prolonged contact between two individuals. This can identify locations that may connect cases and contacts otherwise unknown to one another, helping decision-makers take action – whether that means focused cleaning and disinfecting or tightening social distancing measures in and around that location.

Location technologies allow public health professionals to think differently about present challenges so they can:

  • Better understand COVID-19 cases, exposure locations and spread by managing all their data together in a system of record.
  • Quickly scale and digitize their data collection workflows.
  • Improve awareness by understanding where people are and where they have been.
  • Make more informed decisions related to public health based on potential exposures hotspots.

With a location-focused supplement to traditional contact tracing, public health organizations can increase their odds of containing COVID-19 or any other community spread contagion.

Esri has been helping public health organizations stand up solutions and will be sharing insights in an upcoming Community Contact Tracing Webinar: Enhancing Contact Tracing with Location on Thursday, July 30, 2020, | 10:00 a.m.–11:00 a.m. (PDT).

About Samantha Williams (Full Bio)

Account Executive, Health & Human Services

Samantha Williams is an Account Executive on Esri’s Health & Human Services Team. In her role, she provides subject matter support to state and local governmental public health agencies who are using GIS to solve public health challenges.

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